Here is something special and unusual: the life and death of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke and heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, remixed into a cabaret history lecture by two talented musicians. Enter Earnest & Wilde: the brainchild of singer Ciadhra McGuire and pianist Erik Igelström. Let’s Face the Music (and Franz) is a musical sequence of the inciting events of the First World War, which looks backwards in time whilst riffing heavily on today.
Before this show, I didn't feel strongly about Franz Ferdinand. Now, I feel really quite sorry for him.
The subject topic is delivered unashamedly: this is a play about an Austro-Hungarian aristocrat, born in 1863. McGuire and Igelström are the first to admit that Ferdinand is not one of history’s most interesting characters – but he is one of the more unfortunate. Ferdinand is positioned throughout the sketches, the patter, and the musical numbers, as someone who was failed by the world around him, and sacrificed for something ultimately meaningless that had catastrophic consequences.
This is where Earnest & Wilde fire an emotive blast from their retinue of crowd-pleasing and quirky songs: before this show, I did not feel particularly strongly about Franz Ferdinand. Now, I feel really quite sorry for him. His assassination was a farce, a failure of administration, and an unfortunate outcome of a seductive and persuasive nationalist dialectic. One scene in particular hits the audience far harder than may be expected from an otherwise charming and disarming cabaret. An imperious photo of Ferdinand and his wife is suddenly humanised, and the austere portrait feels unusually tragic. Connecting an audience so completely to a historic subject shows how adeptly McGuire and Igelström have straddled the gulf of history. Let’s Face the Music (and Franz) has an emotional heart.
Energy throughout the performance is high, which is essential for a show with a core aim to entertain and an auxiliary aim to inform. McGuire and Igelström are excellent entertainers and their musical collaboration is tidy and well-rehearsed. Their patter between scenes could be developed and made tighter; sometimes it was possible to see the gaps in the duo. Most of the time, however their performance was cohesive and comically symbiotic.
When I attended this performance, McGuire and Igelström were awarded with a coveted Fringe Review teapot award. This award was well – deserved and a delight to see presented to the duo, who were suitably flabbergasted. Let’s Face the Music (and Franz) is an excellent piece of caberet and variety, which doesn't flinch at the sad, whilst delivering happiness and wild humour in earnest.